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Carthage Library Celebrates Its Past While Keeping an Eye on the Future

Rich Egger

In 1894, Grover Cleveland served as the nation's president, Coca Cola was sold in glass bottles for the first time, and Pullman workers went on strike in Chicago.  It's also the year the Carthage Public Library opened its doors.

“Originally, 125 years ago, it was on the other side of the square. And then it moved to this side of the square but down where City Hall is at 538 Wabash. And we were there for many, many years,” said Amy Gee, Director of the Carthage Public Library.

“And then we moved here (500 Wabash Avenue, on the southwest corner of the square) in 2006.”

Gee spoke to Tri States Public Radio during the library’s 125th Anniversary Open House on Sunday, March 10, 2019. The event featured displays of the library’s history, tours of the building, and live music by Hancock County-based band The Lemmings.

Planning for a public library in Carthage began in March, 1893 and the library opened to the public on March 10, 1894.

Credit Rich Egger
Amy Gee, John Dittmer, and Angie Perry (left to right)

The library’s current building had been used by Marine Bank, which announced in January, 2004 that it would give the building to the library.  That allowed the library to move out of City Hall, giving the city more space for its staff and operations.

Now, the library district hopes to find a new home.  Library Board President John Dittmer pointed out the current facility was not built to be a library.

“It’s very crowded as you can see with the books and everything.  And then whenever we have a lot of people in here, it’s hard to manage.  So we need more space for kids’ programs, adult programs. We just need some more space,” he said.

Dittmer said the library board spent the last few years studying the possibility of getting a new library building.  He says it’s a top priority for the board but finances will determine whether it can be done.

“We plan to continue to serve the public as long as we can and as best we can. And we’ll keep looking for an improvement in our facility and our setting,” Dittmer said.

The program handed out during the anniversary celebration notes:

“Future Plans.  Reconvene community focus group. Seek appropriate building site. Begin Capital Fundraising Campaign. Work with architect to design new library building.”

Gee said no matter where the library is located, it’s a valuable resource, even in an age when so much information is available at one’s fingertips.

“For one thing it’s helping people to find information. Also, in a rural area there are lots of people that don’t have internet or don’t have reliable internet,” Gee said. “Lots of people get internet only on their phone and they can’t print anything because they don’t have computers. And so they come here to use our computers and to get assistance using the computers.”

Gee said thousands of visitors check out items such as books and DVDs, people can download e-books and audio books through the library’s website, and the library hosts programs for people of all ages.

Angie Perry, who’s served on the library board for 42 years, said the library offers many programs and books for children.

“When they’re in the third grade they get their own library card. And from then on they are a library patron,” Perry said. “A lot of the people that live here come back as young people and as older adults. So we’re serving everybody.”

She added, “It’s a good old thing to have books.”

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the important issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.